pacific forum History of Pacific Forum

“A legacy of peace: the US-Japan partnership after 70 years”



Honolulu, Hawaii


Honolulu, Hawaii

Conference Report

The Pacific Forum CSIS, in partnership with the Japan-United States Friendship Commission (JUSFC), held a workshop in Honolulu, Hawaii, on February 27, 2015. It brought together 19 Young Leaders from the US and Japan from private, public, and government sectors with one common interest: US-Japan relations. The participants engaged in a one-day workshop discussing the US-Japan alliance and marking the 70th anniversary of the end of the Pacific War. The workshop identified the views of both nations and how we should commemorate and celebrate war legacies to further strengthen the US-Japan alliance. This meeting highlighted survey data that will serve Pacific Forum CSIS and the JUSFC in the creation of longitudinal study of the US-Japan alliance. Participants were asked the same survey questions before and after the meeting and these questions were modeled after a similar survey conducted in 2009.

In the first session, participants examined the roles Japan and the US should play in the region and whether they believed the alliance was sufficiently strong. This discussion began with a survey that Pacific Forum CSIS conducted prior to the meeting that assessed participants’ attitudes toward the alliance, ways to make the alliance prosper, and the roles Japan and the US should play. The data revealed that 72 percent of US respondents believed that the US-Japan alliance is strong and 85 percent of Japanese concurred. We further assessed the level of assigned strength the participants expressed. 36 percent of US respondents believed that the US-Japan alliance is excellent, and 36 percent believed it to be good. In contrast, 71 percent of Japanese found the alliance good and 14 percent found it excellent. Overall, the alliance was perceived by both parties as sufficiently strong. In addition, we asked Americans and Japanese how they perceived the level of respect shown between the US and Japan.  Notably, we found that 85 percent of Japanese and similarly 85 percent of US respondents thought the level of respect was equal. Therefore, we concluded that there is strong mutual respect. The polled data also assessed differences in how American and Japanese participants view the military alliance. Both agreed that the US-Japan alliance is vital to Japan’s security, with 64 percent of Americans and 71 percent of Japanese strongly concurring. When considering the role of the US-Japan partnership, survey respondents indicated that 91 percent of Americans perceived the US-Japanese alliance as essential to regional stability and security; only 28 percent of Japanese held the same view. Japanese respondents were also more inclined to suggest deepening diplomatic relations with 42 percent support, whereas their US counterparts were more inclined to suggest strengthening of the military alliance with 45 percent support. When asked what the relationship between Japan and the US should be, 71 percent of Japanese felt strongly about strengthening it and only 14 percent suggested keeping it at the same level. On the contrary, 54 percent of their American counterparts wanted a stronger relationship and 45 percent wanted to keep it at the same level.

The first session of the meeting discussed the data at length and the group concluded that the relationship is sufficiently strong. Nevertheless, throughout the workshop, Japanese participants felt misunderstood by their US counterparts, notably, they felt Americans did not understand the cultural roots and values Japanese possess. Collectively, the Japanese position aimed to foster deeper cultural ties to not only assimilate bilaterally, but also to work toward embracing the cultural dichotomy and ingrained mutual understanding.   They suggested that greater economic integration through improved business development practices and a stronger future business alliance might be hampered by the lack of structural, historical, and normative knowledge of Japan. The survey supported this sentiment. US participants said that they feel Japanese are too passive in their approach for a broader integration of not only business but political alignment. One US participant noted that, “we might see this shift happen under Prime Minister Abe Shinzo’s call for a greater participation.” Notably, the tendency among participants was to steer away from focusing on earlier military actions and the need for Japan to apologize for past actions against the United States. The Japanese participants’ sought to refocus attention on balancing cultural differences and to work toward more collaborative people-to-people exchanges that would enhance the US-Japan alliance. This is to combat not only a sense of misunderstanding, but also to refocus US attention from US-China relations to the US-Japan alliance.

In the second half of the conference, participants were divided into three groups of 6-7 participants with equal representation from the US and Japan. They met separately for two hours to propose a plan of action to deepen the US-Japan alliance. Each group proposed five recommendations to strengthen the alliance.

All three groups came up with similar propositions. Group 1 recommended agricultural exchanges, which would encourage greater participation from the younger generations in agro-business, build connections between program participants and institutions, and allow for the sharing of innovative ideas and the growth of bilateral business networks. Their second recommendation was for innovation fairs that would recognize world leaders in development and design. This would allow for transfusion of innovative ideas and new technology through joint engagement from both nations. The third recommendation was for establishing a US-Okinawa community-building project to improve tense relations and create a more conducive environment for diplomatic dialogues. Fourth, they suggested holding concurrent festivals that would build awareness of Japanese and American culture and bridge cultural differences. Group 1’s core concept was tackling the cultural divide.

Group 2 recommended student exchanges that also aimed at bridging the cultural divide. Second, they proposed a ‘Nobel Peace Prize’ for Asia to recognize and reward contributions to regional peace and security. Their third recommendation was for a ‘birthright program’ for Japan that would operate on a similar platform as the Jewish heritage model where Japanese-Americans would travel to Japan to learn about their heritage free of charge. This would help to strengthen US-Japan relations. Their final recommendation was for an enhanced social medial presence, and the establishment of ‘kick-starter funds’ to support business networks and media production that would make a positive impact on future US and Japanese generations.

Group 3 proposed increased US-Japan economic integration through the creation of executive exchange programs that would explore potential bilateral joint ventures, agricultural exchanges (similar to Group 1’s proposal), and a US-Japan fund that would promote entrepreneurship and start-ups. Second, they proposed a US-Japan partnership strategy, an official document that outlines priorities for non-military US-Japan regional engagement and identifies areas where the respective countries can take action.  Their third recommendation was to create educational colloquia for history professors from major universities in all countries that participated in the Pacific War. The colloquia would provide a platform for exchange of educational material, and afford audiences the opportunity to discuss historical issues from divergent perspectives. This would give rise to a more widely shared understanding of the past. Their final recommendation was for a commemorative event or initiative that would highlight the “70 Years of Collaboration” between the US and Japan and emphasize the cultural ties between the two nations in education, economics, and diplomacy.

The group exercise led to a plenary discussion that answered the conference’s final question: how can the US-Japan alliance be strengthened? The general sentiment was to move forward rather than focus on the past in commemorating war legacies. The participants acknowledged the importance of remembering the legacy of the war, but were more interested in finding new ways that the US and Japan can come together and cooperate beyond the military realm. A generational shift has caused the need for a ‘re-apology’ to evaporate. The desire for the US to accept the notion of kami-no-michi (commonly Shinto) was prevalent. In Shinto belief, the dead should be forgiven for their deeds and left to rest in peace. Participants concluded that they hope for a ‘peace memorialization,’ that would shift focus from the emphasis on war to an emphasis on shared cooperation, development, and accomplishment.